Times have changed.
Remember the cyborgs we loved? They were superheroes (or super villains) like RoboCop, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Darth Vader. Some had faces infused with circuitry; others had super strong arms, legs, and exoskeletons. They swooped into our fictional worlds and saved (or tried to ruin) the day.
Cyborg is a blended word created from combining cybernetic and organism. Wikipedia describes a cyborg as “a being with both organic biomechatronic body parts.” Dictionary.com says it’s “a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.”
In other words, cyborgs are us.
Look around. Over half a million knee replacements are done each year. The cost can run from $11,000 – $49,000, depending on how many parts you need, where you live, and what doctor and hospital you use. They’re usually good for 15-20 years. In 2014, The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons announced that over 8 million people were living with artificial joints, mostly knees, hips, and shoulders. That’s almost as many people who live in New York City.
Most of today’s cyborgs are well over 45 years old. My 92-year uncle just had a heart valve replacement. He didn’t make history – the oldest person to receive the same procedure in his state-of-the-art facility was 100.
Cyborgs are diverse – they represent all races, genders, ethnic groups, nationalities, and religions. All cyborgs are created equal as long as they have health insurance. Some of America’s most famous are Billy Joel (hip), George and Barbara Bush (hip and partial knee), and The Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger (hip). Even Jane Fonda (knee and hip) has exercised herself into the group.
Replacement parts don’t stop at joints. There are hearing aids, prosthetics, insulin pumps, and pacemakers on a constantly growing list. Maybe we should call ourselves Baby Cyborg Boomers? Print up t-shirts and bumper stickers with slogans like Fake People, Real Cyborgs?
Author and afterfifty-ite Margaret Mendel* sent me an email describing a get together with friends.
We went out to dinner with two other couples and I had to laugh (to myself) when I looked around the table at all the different devices these very active, smart, and successful people had implanted. The woman to my right had two new knees, wiring in her back, and double hip replacements. Her husband had stents in several arteries in his heart. Next to him was my husband who had major dental implants, and new lenses replacing his cataracts. Opposite was a friend who also had two cataract surgeries along with nerve implants on his back to deaden pain. I thought to myself, wow, this is some crew and probably not out of the ordinary for our age group.
As Star Trek’s Captain Picard-turned-Borg was told, “resistance is futile.”
What will tomorrow bring to our world of cyborgs? Tiny telescopes implanted in the eye can restore vision to end-stage macular degeneration. Bio-engineered cells can be used to replace cartilage, skin, and blood vessels. Experiments with 3-D printing are being conducted to build bio-artificial body parts like kidneys, bladders, and skin, hopefully leading to bio-artificial hearts, livers, and lungs.
Perhaps someday we can even grow a new president.
Let’s face it – 70 is no longer the new 50. Age is now flexible. When someone asks how old you are, the answer is a question.
*Margaret Mendel is the author of two innovative novels, Pushing Water and Fish Kicker (available on Amazon). Visit her website Pushing Time www.pushingtime.com and don’t miss her articles on Kings River Life Magazine, www.kingsriverlife.com